In the song “Love Changes Everything,” Michael Ball, famous English actor and singer, sings, “Love, love changes everything. How you live and how you die.” For some people, a pivotal point enters their lives, radically changing everything, causing them to examine how they have been living and decide to live for Christ. Perhaps the most famous is St. Paul transformed from Saul, fanatical Christian hater and persecutor, to Paul, passionate evangelizer. Surely, he is one of the most celebrated examples of hope.
After Stephen is stoned to death, we read. “And on that day a great persecution arose against the Church in Jerusalem” (Acts 8: 1). One of the most zealous haters of the Christians was Saul. “Saul laid waste the Church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). You can understand why the early Christians were hesitant to believe St. Paul had truly converted.
Saul was continuing on his rampage against the Christians before he was struck down. “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:2).
Jesus has promised us, “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt. 28: 20). If we have our doubts, and we sometimes do, we have only to read St. Stephen’s words in the Acts, “‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God'” (Acts 7: 56). Jesus appeared to him. What does St. Paul hear on the road to Damascus? “‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'” (Acts 9:4). When Saul questions the voice, our Lord responds. “‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). Saul is not the only one hearing the voice of Christ. “The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one” (Acts 9:7).
Then for three days, Saul was without sight, the same number of days Christ was in the tomb. And then something dramatically happened. As the words of the song go, “Yes, love, love changes everything. Now I tremble at your name. Nothing in the world will ever be the same.”
Through Christ, our Heavenly Father sought out St. Paul just like the shepherd in the parable. Why? Our Heavenly Father tells us, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). “I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). To show his disciples the immense love his Father has for each person, Jesus shared the story of the shepherd who abandons his ninety-nine in search of just one lost sheep. He tells them, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15: 7).
To impress on the disciples this great joy, Jesus shared the story of the prodigal son. When the older brother of the prodigal son questions his father, his father replies, “for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15: 32). The father rejoiced over his lost son returning home. He had the servants bring the best robe. He put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet and killed the fatted calf to “eat and make merry” (Luke 15:23).
Our Father’s love for us is relentless. In Francis Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven,” he describes the Heavenly Father, “this tremendous Lover,” as
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Our Heavenly Father never tires of reaching out to us constantly seeking to turn our hearts to him. As the hound follows the hare, ceaselessly pursuing, drawing ever nearer with an “unhurrying chase, And unpertured pace,” so does God follow the soul searching for false happiness in the world, even trying to hide itself from God, but our Heavenly Father’s love tirelessly pursues the fleeing soul with his mystical grace of Divine Love.
St. Paul is not the only miracle of love. Mary Magdalene, who was healed of seven demons, (Luke 8:2) is the one that Jesus appeared to after his resurrection (Mark 16: 9). He could have appeared to Peter or John, but he chose to appear to Mary Magdalene. God’s love is an ocean of mercy. How is this possible? “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). “Yes, love, love changes everything.”
Also when the Pharisee questioned Jesus about the woman who wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, and kissed his feet and anointed them with ointment (Luke 7:38), Jesus responded by asking Simon the Pharisee, Which debtor would love the creditor more? The one whose debt is greater or lesser? “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much” (Luke 7:47). Like the words of the song, “Love, will turn your world around.”
Our Heavenly Father allows us a free will. We can be a stiff-necked people, stubbornly engrossed in our hardened hearts. “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51). Our Heavenly Father begs us, “if you would but listen to me!” (Psalms 81: 8). But we desire to turn our back on God. He laments, “But my people did not listen to my voice” (Psalms 81:11). Therefore what happens? “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels” (Psalms 81: 12). C. S. Lewis said, ”He loved us not because we are lovable but because He is love.”
Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2: 38). What happens with that gift? The song goes, “Nothing in the world will ever be the same.” St. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
The incredible stories of transformation are just as real today as yesterday. Some of the most stalwart defenders of the faith are converts. Sometimes, the conversion stories can be rather surprising like bodybuilder Joseph Gloor’s testimony on Word on Fire. Saul was blinded by God. Some people are spiritually blind, some people are like the author of the Hound of Heaven, busy pursuing false happiness. Grace is truly amazing! John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace,” was a former slave trader, who later converted to Christianity and became active in the abolitionist movement to end slave trading. The lyrics for “Amazing Grace” are “I once was lost but now am found. Was blind but now I see.”
“Love will never ever let you be the same.”
Photo by Thomas Vitali on Unsplash